A Darkling Sea by James L. Cambias

A solid book; it’s about scientists exploring an alien world. The science part feels right–there are restrictions that the chafe at, genuine engagement and questions, and resignation to do the best the can, despite the restrictions.

The Sholen begin as an off screen constraint… their rules are the impediment to good science, for understandable reasons. Then we start getting POV chapters from them, and we realize how thin their justification is. They are well built as alien but comprehensible; their politics aren’t fully explained, but they are politics as we’d understand them. The Sholen’s intrusion into the base, after the accident, kicks up a hornet’s nest. Some of the petty and strange behavior of the scientists until then make sense with the new context.

When things go wrong, there’s a solid cultural explanation behind the ratcheting escalation. It’s well done; missteps and misinterpretations grounded in their own understanding of social agreements lead to subtle warfare–but both sides are divided. It’s really well done.

He built an interesting universe; I suspect that I’d enjoy following these characters as they deal with the aftermath of their actions and the repercussions on both societies. I’d also be interested in stories of other characters elsewhere, wrestling under the same constraints–and navigating the changes that Ilmatar’s conflict will have on Human-Sholen relations everywhere.

Shades of Grey by Jackie Kessler and Caitlin Kittredge

I like this book, the sequel to Black and White, too… just not as much.

The focus of this book is much less on Jet and Iridium. The book still alternates between current action and flashbacks, but the flashbacks are not to young Jet and Iridium, but to their parents–and not just their parents, but the whole alpha-team of their parent’s day. It’s a good change for getting more world building and explanations into the story, but gives up the strong focus on Jet and Iridium that made the first book such a pleasure.

So the crisis Iridium triggered at the end of Black and White is the heart of “now”; dealing with it is exhausting, but Jet and Iridium grow and step into new leadership roles. It’s a fine “adulthood and accepting the burdens of responsibility” story, but it’s much shorter than the previous book. The alternate era story is interesting and good worldbuilding–it’s nice context for both books–but no character gets enough time to make them truly sing. (Luster is much better formed by the end of the flashbacks; his final “then” scene with Night does a great job of defining them both.)

I think this book was the end of their partnership in exploring this world. If they resumed, the story going forward would be significantly different due to Jet and Iridium’s new relationship and roles. Done well, I’d enjoy more stories.